Superhero 101: Eight secrets to delegating more effectively

Telling a manager they need to delegate more is often like telling a superhero they need to set aside their vast powers and watch their employees do the world saving: “Did you save the world like I asked you too? No? You said you would get that done by Tuesday…”

The executive overlord gets frustrated because she’s tired of hearing the superhero manager say he’s too busy. “Just delegate more and follow up!” shouts the overlord.

The superhero gets defensive and walks out of the meeting with his cape in a bunch because no one saves the world like he does. In fact, the last time he delegated saving the world, his underling was content to stop an evil genius by just freezing his assets. The superhero manager knows you must always confront the evil genius face to face in the depths of the evil lair. This attention to detail is what got the superhero the manager job in the first place.

What the superhero manager AND the executive overlord must realize though is that delegating is not just a matter of getting better at assigning work and following up, it’s a matter of building the right team to delegate to, then going through the gut wrenching process of giving up tasks and control for the purpose of getting bigger picture items done. It’s a matter of hanging up the cape and donning a pair of chinos.

Fortunately here’s a step by step process to help you through it, custom made for superheroes:

1. Scope of responsibility – Every department, division, or business unit has a scope of responsibility. This is the total workload of that area. What’s most important, before considering additional delegation, is that the scope of responsibility is executed successfully. If, temporarily because of resource constraints, that gets done by a manager flying around like a hyperactive overcaffeinated supermanager, so be it. That’s not ideal, but priority one is to execute on the scope of responsibility.

2. It’s not just saving the world – But hold on there manager of steel, your scope of responsibility has many facets, not just saving the world. There’s also rescuing cats from trees, or helping senior citizens cross the street. In all the frantic flying around, are you getting just the urgent world saving tasks done and neglecting other duties? If so, then delegate these lesser tasks to your budding superheroes. They will do them as if they were saving the world.

3. Even saving the world is a team effort – Everyone wants to focus on the evil genius confrontation part of the world saving, but what about logistics, costume repair, and things like busting down doors of evil genius lairs? Everyone has a number of little specialties. Don’t get so caught up in the end result that you forget to work on the less dramatic but just as important interim parts of world saving. Assign those tasks to others, and save the world as a team.

4. Skills and preference – You want to still be a manager/doer. That’s fine. When you delegate, try to maximize people’s skills and indulge preferences, including your own. Maybe, for example, you can still fly faster than anyone else. Great, so long distance world saving is your bailiwick. But long distance world saving only happens ten percent of the time. Delegate local world saving to others, so they can exercise their talents and develop new skills.

5. Delegate communication and process – You may get caught in this trap, “We are a bunch of superheroes; we don’t need processes. We just use our super powers and figure stuff out.” That may be how you operate, but the rest of the team wants a little bit of structure. If it’s not your thing, simply delegate the process and ongoing communication to someone who likes it. Maybe promote a team leader who schedules heroic events for people requesting superhero assistance. Someone will rise up and fly with it, and you’ll get it out of your super hair.

6. Hire other superheroes – Always look to hire other superheroes that are either more skilled than you at your specific talents or have a different talent. These people won’t let you get away with not delegating. They will pull tasks from you so they can exercise their talents. For example, you may want someone who can fly faster than you AND freeze things with her mind. That way, you can take vacation and if an evil genius tries to import weaponized newtonium by ship, you have someone who can instantly freeze the harbor with thought power.

7. Think about your overlord – Your overlord may be a former superhero, current desk jockey who keeps telling you to delegate more. One day try flipping the script on them and ask what more they could delegate to you. You’ve already done steps 1 through 6 above. What can you now do to help your overlord move up and become a grand overlord (or pursue whatever career paths superhero overlords pursue)?

8. Delegate for higher purpose – In the end, what’s the purpose of delegation? It’s a way to raise everyone’s level. The world saving will still happen, but instead of it being done just by you, your team is now doing it and improving their skills along the way. At the same time you can now use some of your other vast talents to build a new worldwide superhero consortium or start a superhero training center like you always wanted to do.

The purpose of delegation is to maximize productivity, get more done consistently, and raise everyone’s level. If you do this, you will transform from a super manager to a super leader. And every once in a while, if you feel the need, you can still put your cape back on and take out an evil genius. That is, if you can still fit in your tights.

The Introvert’s Guide to Sales Success

Years ago we did a company team building exercise where we all took personality tests. After being labeled either an introvert or extrovert, we separated into groups to discuss the opportunities and challenges of whatever personality type we happened to be.

Our facilitator was careful to tell us that one type was not necessarily better than the other. She also emphasized it wasn’t a binary choice, but rather each person was somewhere on a continuum between “I” and “E”.

That didn’t stop the extroverts from seeming just a little too proud of their “E” label, prompting me to shout “INTROVERTS RULE!” as some software engineers, our CEO, and I huddled up in our group to discuss our love of reading, quiet mornings, and solitary intellectual pursuit.

It’s been a while, but I think the meeting ended with a West Side Story style dance battle, introverts vs. extroverts, our side snapping our fingers and singing “When you’re an introvert, you’re an introvert…”

Actually, that part didn’t happen. But it did prompt me to think about the stereotypical jobs held by stereotypical personality types. For example, the salesperson is commonly thought of as the extroverted, back slapping, loud laughing type, and yet, as a certified introvert, I love sales.

I have mostly worked as a sales engineer selling business software, and it’s a great job.You get to travel, meet hundreds of great people, and get exposure to many different business models. You also get to hone your presentation skills and eat a lot of great lunches. Introverts love lunch.

So if you happen to be more of an “I”, but you are interested in a sales career, here are a few tips to help you head in that direction:

1. Details, Details – If you enjoy detailed solitary study, you’ll be happy to know that there are many complex products that require in depth knowledge and intricate explanations to make the sale. Complex software is just one example. You’ll spend half your time feeding your introvert brain with product details and the other half selling. That’s a good balance.

2. An Earful – I’m not saying extroverts aren’t good listeners, many are. But have you ever been accosted by a salesperson who never asks as single question and blasts you with all sorts of information? Conversely, if you tend to be on the quieter side, but are good at asking questions, you can get prospects talking, learn more, and use that information to tailor your sales approach.

3. Answers, Questions, then more Answers – Here’s a typical sales interaction: The prospect asks me a few questions to see if they want to continue the conversation. I answer. Then I ask my own questions to see if our product is a fit. This gets the prospect talking about their needs. If there’s a match, I provide more answers. I want to quickly discern if the prospect can derive value from our product. If not, we can both save time by exiting the conversation. Then I can go back to sitting quietly, immersing myself in arcane details.

4. Outrunning Awkwardness – When I have to do a presentation, I’m driven to continually practice it, over and over again. I want to make sure it’s flawless. I want to push past the point where I feel awkward and into the comfort zone where it looks natural, even if I still feel awkward. To do that takes a lot of practice, but I can get there.

5. One to One to One to One – Since I’m naturally more comfortable in one to one conversations, when I have to do presentations to a small group, I tend to focus on each person at a time, sequentially tailoring my points to their questions or concerns. This usually works well as long as you spread the love around and spend enough time on the decision makers..

6. Flip that Sales Switch – I’ve done enough presentations now that my nervousness has lessened, but there is still that point before each one that I have to flip the mental switch and be on. It probably takes more effort for me than a pure extrovert, but it can be done and it does get easier.

7. Working with those E’s – It’s really great when you are selling a product that warrants deploying a sales team. Most of our projects require a salesperson and a sales engineer. If the salesperson is an extrovert, it really helps to balance out the sales meeting. If I’m presenting, they can fill in the gaps, provide color commentary, and take a bit of the pressure off.

8. Trade shows – Being in a trade show booth can be a major energy drain for any personality type, but it’s an especially exhausting event for a capital “I”. It’s part of the job, however, and I look at it like training for an endurance sport. You can run 10 miles if you train for it. Maybe not right away, but you can get there and eventually enjoy it.

9. “I” Before “E” – I also believe with enough practice and sales activity, you can slide yourself a few notches over on the continuum from introvert to extrovert. Not that it necessarily matters. We are all special in our own way (I learned that from my mom back in the ’70s). But it certainly does help in a lot of social situations if you are a little bit closer to the middle of the continuum.

10. Planning Downtime – Lastly, when you know you need to be on a lot of the time, but you crave some introverted alone time, you just get smarter about planning your schedule so you have that time to recharge. It becomes part of your routine.

I would have never predicted it, but I’ve grown to love the sales parts of my job. It’s a great role for an introvert like me. Hopefully this helps you figure out if some sort of sales career would be a good choice for you. I’ll say it again: INTROVERTS RULE!

Don’t take that the wrong way. Some of my best friends are extroverts. But wow do they talk a lot!

Idea Avalanche: Effectively Dealing with Employee Feedback

You decide to create an open collaborative culture at work, but when you first ask for feedback from the team, all you hear is crickets chirping. No one wants to open up. But you keep sharing information and you continue to solicit employee feedback. Soon everyone is opening up.

You’re knee deep in an idea avalanche. Phyllis thinks Mondays should be a day off and everyone should work four tens. Reginald wants to put in a game room so he can show off his foosball skills. Seymour thinks the health benefits are stingy, but he came up with a great new idea for selling widget scrap in the southeast division. He also wants to start a book club focused entirely on vampire romance. Everybody is yearning for company support for their ideas.

Soon you get the comment, “You asked for my ideas and now you’re not using them?”

Wait a minute Seymour… An open culture means all ideas are solicited, many are considered, some are tabled, and a few are implemented immediately. Ideas go through a Darwinian process. Only the fittest survive.

With that in mind, here is a methodical way to consider employee feedback:

1. Expectation – Make it clear you are open to all feedback, but feedback will be judged on quality of the idea, clarity of thought, and how well the feedback was communicated. Clearly communicated substantive ideas rise to the top.

2. Evaluation – Evaluate how well the idea lines up with current plans and strategies. Some ideas are great but are before their time or are not realistic given current business constraints. If that’s the case, make sure you have a way to track these ideas so they can be evaluated later.

3. Percolation – Still not sure? Solicit opinions from the rest of the team. Let the idea percolate for a little while and collect this additional feedback. Use the feedback to refine the original idea. Hold a brainstorming meeting to discuss the feedback.

4. Moderation – You may want to immediately squash frivolous ideas. “We are a business gosh darn it!” But I encourage you to moderate your draconian nature and indulge some seemingly frivolous ideas if they are low cost and they enhance employee satisfaction.

5. Determination – Make the determination on each idea: Yay, Nay, or Stay. Stay means you are parking the idea for future consideration. People are usually ok with any of the three answers as long as the idea had its due consideration. What irks people is receiving no determination.

6. Communication – Once you’ve decided, communicate your decision directly to the person it came from. No matter what the determination is on this particular idea, they will be more likely to bring up ideas in the future if they received clear communication back with solid reasoning.

Success as a leader in a collaborative culture will be partially determined by how well you can decipher and decide upon the constant stream of ideas coming your way.

Yes Seymour, you can use the lunch room on Fridays for your vampire romance book club.